Plants in the garden- mulberry tree

Mulberry really is the Giving Tree. This simple little tree has so many uses and does so many jobs that I am just thankful every time I pass it. Our little tree is growing at the bottom of the chook run, it has access to the nutrients that wash or leech out of the compost material we dump into the chooks to be turned into humus rich soil. It doesn’t get much water (only what we tip out of the duck and chicken water pots) and has had no pruning except from the sheep and once a stray herd of cattle.

The leaves feed my silk worms (although not this year, as the leaves are more valuable as shade), the fruit feeds the humans and birds in our family, and the wild birds and possums that visit (and probably bats too, although we haven’t seen them), the tree shades the chooks in the pen and the ducks outside the fence and the leaves feed the sheep. The leaves also have medicinal uses for humans; treating colds, regulating blood pressure, regulating digestion and adding iron to the diet (to name just a few benefits). What else could we ask of a garden plant.

They can be invasive, this particular tree was grown from a seedling dug out of the river bank, but everything has it’s down side and I feel the benefits far out weigh the risks here.

Making peace silk- Turning cocoons into silk

Most of the moths have emerged now and are busy mating and laying eggs for next spring. I have processed a few more of the cocoons and remembered to take photos this time. So here is the process with photos.

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These are the cocoons before cleaning. The rough silk around the cocoons can be harvested (by picking the bits of leaf and poop out) and used as silk noil.

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The cleaned cocoons, these have all emerged and are ready to be processed.

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This is what silk noil looks like before processing. There is a surprisingly large amount around each cocoon.

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I used about half a teaspoon of my washing gel in a saucepan.

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Which I heated in water until it had disolved.

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Then I added the cocoons and let them soak for a while.

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I tried to unravel some of the cocoons a bit, but soon gave up because it was a lumpy mess.

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When the water had cooled a bit I squished the cocoons and worked the seracin (the yellow stuff) out of the fibre. Then I rinsed the mass under the cold tap, gave it a squeeze and lay it out to dry.

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Once it was dry I carded my silk into a beautiful rolag.

I am looking forward to washing out all the cocoons and having a day  of carding and spinning my home produced silk. I wonder what I will make from it? Any suggestions? I don’t think there will be much of it.

Producing peace silk- the moths are emerging

After only two weeks of cocooning the moths are beginning to emerge. At the point of writing this I have two male moths with many more to come. Males are easy to identify because they have well formed wings and smaller bellies, they also hold their bottoms in the air and flutter their wings regularly to attract females (they make a sort of twerking motion with their bottoms too). At this point I am just trying to keep the remaining worms fed and find a place for the emerging moths, but I did find I couldn’t resist processing just two of the now empty cocoons.

This is the hole in the end of the cocoon  made by the emerging moth

Many more cocoons waiting to be emptied.

I got so excited that I didn’t take photos, so words will have to do.
First I made sure the cocoons were empty by checking for the hole in the end. Then I heated some water on the stove in an old saucepan. I added a teaspoon of my home made laundry gel (more on this recipe at a later date) which is basically pure soap and washing soda with a few drops of eucalyptus oil. The teaspoon was more than enough for my two cocoons, I will add more cocoons to the next lot I  process.
I let them simmer on  the stove for half an  hour (alongside the steaming veges for tea) then turned the heat off and let the water cool until I could reach in and scoop out the mass of silk. The two cocoons turned into a mass of tangled fibre in no time. Next I rinsed this mass under the tap until all the gel was removed and the yellow colouring had left the strands, I also picked out the left over skin and stuff from the cocoons at the same time. I haven’t organised a frame to stretch the cocoons onto yet so I just spread the fibre out as best I could and left it on the sink drainer to dry.
When it was dry and a bit fluffy I took the opportunity to admire my first bit of peace silk fibre. Then I wacked the little mass on the carders and carded away for a few minutes until I had a passable rolag.

My first silk rolag

A close up of the fibre

Of course my moths are now busy mating and laying eggs for next year.

Next years silk worms.

The whole silkworm story is fascinating; from the huge effect silk has had on world trade, politics and even exploration to the interesting fact that there are at least three genus of silk moth and not all of them eat mulberries and the many myths surrounding the discovery and production of silk.

Here is an interesting article about the effect silk had on world trade in history.

I am finding this journey of discovery very interesting; silk is an amazingly beautiful fibre and like all fibre sources it requires a bank of specialised skills and knowledge to produce. There is so much more left to learn. Once all my moths have emerged and lay eggs I will be experimenting with processing the cocoons, I might even try to unravel some hatched cocoons in the traditional manner and see why it’s not considered to be viable.

Producing peace silk- from eggs to hankies

Lately I have been thinking about learning to spin silk. I bought myself a small lot of beautiful roving and spun it up on my wheel. It was smooth and easy  to spin, it produced a gorgeous, lustrous yarn that took the bright orange dye so well it looked almost glowing. So I decided that silk is my new love (when it comes to fibre) and ordered some cheaper silk hankies, because the roving is anything but cheap.
Me being me, I wanted to do the whole process from scratch, not just buy roving and spin it. I want to be the whole machine, not just a cog in it. First I had to find out the details…

I did my usual research and read heaps of books and articles, watched how-to videos and discovered that the beautiful roving I so badly wanted to make came with a price even bigger than money; the pupa are boiled alive so they don’t damage the cocoons when they emerge as moths.That put me off the whole deal, until I discovered that there is a movement called ‘peace silk’ who’s practitioners let every moth hatch and process the cocoons into silk hankies or slubby (rough) roving.
While the peace silk method does sound better as it doesn’t involve boiling babies it does leave me with another quandary; what to do with all those eggs. If every female moth mates and lays up to 500 eggs, then those eggs will either need to be destroyed or given away. I thought long and hard on the subject and decided that letting the moths emerge and lay eggs then destroying the eggs is more ethical as science does not consider eggs as living things (they are considered to be non-living things with the potential for life) although there is a lot of contention about this classification. Maybe this train of thought is just hair splitting, but I have to form an opinion one way or the other in order to proceed. Who knows, a better method may present itself in the future.

I found a listing on Gum tree for free silkworm eggs so my silkworm adventure began. The eggs came in the mail and as it had been a warm few days they immediately began to hatch. Luckily I had also ordered some silkworm chow (dehydrated mulberry leaf mush) as our mulberry tree was only just beginning to put on leaf. I made up some of the chow and fed the early arrivals.

The new babies are so tiny they are hard to see.

They grew fast, eating day and night until they were in danger of exploding out of their little box. When my tree had full leaf I began to feed them real leaves instead of the mush, they loved it and grew even faster. I found that the worms are more active and healthy when they eat leaves. So began a period of feeding twice a day on a big pile of mulberry leaves.

As you can see there are different ages in this lot. The eggs took a total of two weeks to hatch.

They are voracious eaters

Just when I was congratulating myself on keeping them all going…disaster struck. Stray cattle ate my mulberry tree down to the bare branches (including a very promising crop of fruit). Which left me begging friends and neighbors for leaves from their trees. Luckily this stage is almost at an end as my poor tree is growing more leaves. The worms eat about a shopping bag full of leaves per day, which is not small amount. I think I will have to plant a few more trees to keep up next year.

Some worms began making silk about eight weeks after the first hatching, this is a very long time to stay worms and I can only guess at the cause. Apparently the worms should start to spin after four weeks (or there about), but not having enough to eat and or colder weather can slow down the process. Maybe the silkworm chow was not enough for them, or maybe the weather was too cold. Possibly they have been bred to be worms for longer as they are now considered as pets by some people. Either way, they have begun to spin cocoons, so I built a spinning retreat for them.

My spinning retreat box. The toilet rolls are perfect for worms to spin in.

New residents getting ready to spin.

One worm decided to spin in an already occupied tube, but it’s best not to disturb them once they start to spin.

You can see the sheen on the cocoons

The sheen or glow stays with the yarn

I don’t know why my worms spin yellow cocoons, but apparently it washes out.

So far the silk making adventure has been fun and very satisfying. Once the cocoons hatch and I can process them the learning will really begin.